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Maintenance Math

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I'm struck by how much harder I have to work at the gym to burn 400 calories on the cross trainer now that my weight is 140 (or, today, 138).

It took me just over 43 minutes at level 8, really sweating it, to burn 400 calories on the elliptical cross trainer.

And burning even 10 calories requires significant expenditure of energy.

When I was over 160 pounds, the 400 calories took more like 30 minutes.

That's why, I suppose, I have to eat much less and work much harder to stay in the same place . . . the place I'm wanting to stay which is right about here. I like seeing a middle number "3" on the scale! And I'm liking the way my clothes fit, and the general feeling of lightness and ease and strength I'm experiencing.

I did a little researching on the internet to determine the maintenance math: how many calories can I actually eat to maintain at 140 or so? Using the Harris-Benedict Formula, I first calculate my basic metabolic rate. That's determined by my height, weight and age, and the figure which came up is 1306.3.

Then I consider my activity level: from sedentary (which would indicate a multiplier of 1.2) through light, moderate and very active to super active (multiplier of 1.9). That's the calories for maintenance, according to this formula.

No way am I sedentary. Most days I'm at least a moderate exerciser. Which would mean that I ought to be able to eat 1900 calories a day and maintain at 140. But in my experience, I cannot eat much more than 1300 calories a day and maintain the same weight. Nope.

And almost twice that? No way, even if I were so super active that I remained on that elliptical cross trainer pumping my arms at top speed all day long: I'm pretty sure I still couldn't maintain my weight if I ate close to 2600 calories a day.

What I do know: eating even 100 excess calories a day results in a 10 pound weight gain a year. Compounding. And it's so easy to eat 100 excess calories: that's a largish apple, or 3 pre-wrapped Lindt dark chocolate squares or 1 oz cheddar or . . . not much!!

So: here's the thing. The less I weigh, the less I can eat, and the harder I have to exercise to stay in the same place. I'm thinking that this is the reason that so many people find it easy enough to lose weight, hard to maintain the loss.

Good to know. Right. Here's the link if you want to try the math for yourself.


And here's another link from the Mayo Clinic which is a bit easier to work with, but doesn't actually explain the process very well:


Love SP: but it's telling me (if I change to indicate the new weight and new weight goal) 2000-2500 calories a day.

And I do know that won't work for me.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • JOYFUL711
    I just did the math on that link, it says I should eat 2013 calories to *maintain* my current weight of 133 lbs, I strongly disagree. My dietician already told me my upper limit for maintneance will be 1200-1300 calories if I want to stay this size. (she did say it was ok for my age to be heavier, I do not want to be). I aleady KNOW, I will be at least 150 lbs if I eat 2000 calories on a regular basis. Good grief!
    2533 days ago
    Here's a link to a "facts and fallacies" post by nutritionist Leslie Beck who tells us that for women, 1400-1600 calories a day is probably the optimal range: high end, I'm thinking, but more doable.

    2535 days ago

    Comment edited on: 6/13/2011 11:00:40 AM
    I did do this calculation a while ago - and realized how much discipline would be required to maintain my goal weight once I reached it. It's good to know, so that we can have realistic expectations.

    I agree that this is probably why many people gain back the weight they lose. They thought they'd be able to stop 'dieting' once they reached goal.

    2535 days ago
    I like the way you make the body's calculus conscious, Ellen, so it falls into the realm we can do something about.
    I appear to be 'maintaining' about ten pounds higher than where I'd like to be. I know, I know, eat less and move more. I'm also working with a feeling of contentment, eating enough to feel satisfied -- usually about 1300 cals -- don't really want to eat much less than that. So my math requires me to increase calories out. I increased my walking goal this month, so we'll see what happens. Just working on taking action and then being patient about reaching the results.
    Thanks as always for a thought provoking blog.
    2535 days ago
    .. and when you get older it seems to get less too. This path never promised to be easy, just healthier. We can do it.
    2535 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Ah... you have found the secret.
    Since you need to consume less... you can invest your food dollars on higher quality foods. (if you already do that... save the $ for greens fees.)
    Part of the reason for the need to consume less and work out longer is that you are now moving a smaller body size.
    WTG on making maintenance work for you and thank you for the math lesson.
    It is good to keep these things in mind when at goal weight, maintaining is sort of like housework, you need to be attentive or it all goes to.....
    You are being very attentive.
    2536 days ago
    That's the second corollary, E...

    that "the less you weight, the less you can eat, the harder you have to exercise" bit?


    I think that's where we lose a lot of 'em...

    NO one wants to hear that.
    it's true peeps... get good with it!

    2536 days ago
    Maintenance is complicated, but worth it! :)

    I find I have to aim a little lower than my self-determined maintenance calories, just in case I go over my limit by eating out that week or traveling that month.

    I use health(!) as a motivator for exercise, as I have never been a high burner in that department.
    2536 days ago
    I do a class every Saturday morning called Ultimate Conditioning. Step, intervals, weights, more step, abs, stretch. It's a great class and I love it.

    At 170 pounds (6 months ago), I would burn between 550 and 610 calories in the hour.

    At 163 pounds (today) I burned 476. Granted, I haven't eaten well the last two days and didn't have as much energy, so really didn't push myself today. Normally I'll burn over 500 calories, but just over.

    It goes to show how much harder I have to work, and how much less I have to eat, to maintain the same progression.

    As for maintenance calories, there's no way I'd follow SP's advice to eat 2000-2500 a day. Talk about a recipe for disaster! I would imagine that to maintain my ultimate goal weight of 150 pounds I won't be able to consume much more than I'm eating now. And that's fine with me.
    2536 days ago
    Yeah, according to SparkPeople I'm active enough, and eating little enough, to be losing. But that isn't happening for me. I'm not sure if it's my basal metabolism rate, or if I'm inaccurate in calculating my intake or output, or what. I do know that at this point, I should eat about 1450 cals a day - but that will change, I'm sure.

    It's a fine balancing act, and it changes as we change. That is for sure.
    2536 days ago
    Thanks for the link. The Mayo Clinic says I can maintain on 1900 calories. Spark People gives me 1840, and that seems to be working for me. I called myself "active" because I try to do 40 minutes or more of exercise 5 days a week, but my exercise of choice is weight lifting or yoga, neither of them what I think of as high calorie burners.
    2536 days ago
  • ERIKO1908
    LOL!!! You make maintenance stage seem like something I'm not sure I want to achieve!! (just kidding!!) Very informative - thank you!!
    2536 days ago
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